Thursday, March 14, 2013

Garrone’s Reality

As a fishmonger, reality is about as real as it gets for the hardworking Luciano.  Unfortunately, he is seduced by the lure of hyper-unreal reality shows’ fifteen minutes of fame in Matteo Garrone’s Reality (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Initially, it is not even his idea.  Attending a big extravagant Long Island style wedding, Luciano encounters Enzo, a former Italian Big Brother champion making a paid appearance.  An offhand invitation to the show’s Naples try-outs leads to a formal invitation to audition in Rome (at the celebrated Cinecitta Studio, no less).  Convinced he nailed it, Luciano returns home like a conquering hero.  His neighbors start treating him like a celebrity, anticipating his impending television notoriety.  However, as the start of the show’s new season approaches with no word coming from the producers, Luciano becomes increasingly erratic, paranoid, and depressed.

Although not explicitly about reality television, Matteo’s film makes the Italian version of Big Brother look particularly gross.  Of course, nearly any program would be just as seductive.  Still, it is hard to believe a loving husband and father could get so far ahead of himself and fall apart so profoundly for so dubious prize.  Whether we believe it or not, it is still cringy to watch.

While radically different in tone from Garrone’s previous, Gomorrah, he has not strayed far in terms of geography or culture.  Hardly Armani’s Italy, this is a place where yellow tank tops with garish racing stripes do not look out of place.  Nonetheless, cinematographer Marco Onorato frames some striking visuals, often evoking the great Italian cinema masterworks of decades past.

Aniella Arena has a bit of that clown-who-can-make-you-cry thing going on as Luciano.  He certainly makes the audience feel uncomfortable.  Nando Paone is also memorably understated and humane as Luciano’s pious partner, Michele, a notably sympathetic Catholic character.  However, most of his family members are rather shticky stock figures that would fit right into any film with the words “My Big Fat” in the title.

While it is disconcerting to watch Luciano unravel, Reality never approaches the level of a Twenty-First Century Network or A Face in the Crowd.  Co-written by Garrone, Maurizio Bruacci, Ugo Chiti, and Massimo Gaudioso, Reality breaks no new ground with its familiar brand of media criticism.  We all get it, only too well.  Nicely crafted but not nearly as deep as it presumes to be, Reality opens tomorrow (3/15) in New York at the Angelika Film Center.